Musorgsky • Schumann

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Musorgsky,Schumann
LABELS: Myrios Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Kirill Gerstein: Imaginary Pictures
WORKS: Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Schumann: Carnaval
PERFORMER: Kirill Gerstein (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: MYR013

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The excellence of Kirill Gerstein’s previous solo disc – featuring Schumann, Knussen and Liszt’s B minor Sonata – suggested that the two works on this new album would perfectly match his abilities. With that in mind, his uncertain pacing of the opening Promenade to Pictures might suggest Musorgsky himself, a little worse for drink, making his way into the gallery; even the deliberate and lurching ‘Gnomus’ hints at Musorgsky’s empathy with the misshapen nutcracker design. But Gerstein’s playing continues with this metrical uncertainty, and one becomes increasingly aware of the lack of atmosphere and drama. ‘Catacombae’ and the following ‘Con mortuis in lingua mortua’ have no chilling sense of mortality, and ‘Baba Yaga’ conveys no menace. In a rival BIS recording, Freddy Kempf’s light-fingered handling of the technical challenges of ‘Gnomus’ and ‘Baba Yaga’, if anything, unleashes all the more the danger and ferocity of those monsters.

The Schumann is more of a curate’s egg: admirable qualities (a genuinely sotto voce ‘Eusebius’, and a charming ‘Reconnaissance’, with its steadily rattling semi-quavers) are juxtaposed with some heavy-handed playing (‘Coquette’ or ‘Papillons’). It takes Carnaval time to take flight. Gerstein’s playing too often seems effortful, with rubato apparently unrelated to an underlying metre or rhythm, and his characterisation is fitful: ‘Arlequin’, for instance, is neither Vivo nor nimble, but instead tentative and deliberate. However, the final hurtling ‘Pause’ and con-cluding ‘March’ make a pleasing conclusion.

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Daniel Jaffé